Karel Kachyňa and the Czechoslovak normalisation period: Two decades of films that were not just for children

Fri8  Apr02:00pm(20 mins)
Music Room


Kenneth Ward


Two films were released by Czech filmmaker Karel Kachyňa in 1990 in the wake of the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia: The Last Butterfly (Poslední motyl), a British/French/Czechoslovak cooperative production set at the Nazi interment camp at Terezín during the Protectorate years, and The Ear (Ucho), a film completed originally in 1970 that was banned by the communist authorities on its completion. The latter, filmed after the Soviet-led invasion by the Warsaw Pact nations of August 1968, demonstrates an open critique of peer-to-peer surveillance under the totalitarian regime and was nominated for the Palme d'Or in the year of its eventual release. While The Ear breaks the taboo in the state-run film industry of dealing with the oppressive conditions met by citizens at every level of civic life during the regime, its relegation to the vaults renders it toothless in the normalisation context. The Last Butterfly, however, despite its release after the fall of communism, is the culmination of a subversive strand in Kachyňa's canon that I will argue has been overlooked with regards to his normalisation-period works from 1970-1989. The story of a mime artist, whose art is in gestures, attempting to reveal the atrocities of the Holocaust to an unwitting audience is the anagnorisis of Kachyňa's normalisation-period work, while the fate of its central character provides an ominous outlook from the veteran filmmaker.

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